Here to return to
THERE is no other section of Boston, of the same size, which could have been destroyed, that would have been covered with the ruins of so much wealth. Neither is there another section, containing sixty acres, the destruction of which would not have rendered homeless many thousand people. There were many, far too many, whose homes were consumed, and whose destitution was most pitiful; but the number of dwellings seems comparatively few when we consider the extent of the fire and the long list of buildings destroyed. Less than a hundred dwellings, and less than a thousand people rendered homeless, are reported in official schedules. But in many cases the loss was much greater to those whose houses and homes were saved than it was to some whose dwellings are now in ashes. Thousands could have spared the place where they ate and slept, but could not live without help when the manufactories and warehouses in which they were employed had gone out of existence. Hence the burning of one clothing-establishment might cause more actual suffering than did the downfall of all those dwelling-houses.
There were destitution, hunger, and even nakedness. The working-men and working-girls did need much assistance. Starvation and cold stood in their pathways, and bitter poverty compelled them to ask for food and work.
Boston was proud. She could not forget that here originated the charitable enterprises of America. She remembered how the eyes of all were turned upon her again, as they so often have been in civil and military strife, to see what she would do in order that they might follow her example. Boston was rich. With her capital she has covered the land with railroads, blocked the great rivers with factories, and helped new States into a healthy, financial life. She had lost much; but what was that compared with the riches which she bad left?
Appreciating to the fullest extent the great kindness of such as desired to aid them, the people of Boston did not feel as if they could conscientiously relinquish the privilege of caring for their own poor; and while the fire was but half spent, and before the people of other cities began to realize what an appalling disaster had visited us, a large number of the most venerable and respectable citizens of the burning city met in the City
Hall to provide organized means of relief for such as were in need. Men there were, then, who, with generous hearts and widespread palms, were eager to do, and to give to any in poverty, yet who, as the fire rushed on, were themselves rendered penniless; and the closing day saw poverty stalking in at their mansions in a garb as horrid as ever it had exhibited to the lowest cottager.
But there were thousands whose wealth was still untouched, and thousands who had lost much, who were eager to give; and the good work went on. We have tried, with all the means and all the time at our command, to make a record of their proceedings for the perusal of future generations, which shall be a true exhibit of the men and their labors.
At a meeting held
on Sunday, while the fire was still raging, the following General Relief
Committee was appointed: —
Mr. William Gray was elected chairman (than whom none greater or more noble ever drew breath), Mr. Franklin Williams secretary, and Mr. Otis Norcross treasurer. All were men distinguished as much by their good deeds as by their great ones.
A sub-committee to “draw up a plan of action, and report the next day,” was composed of Mr. Gray, Mr. Claflin, Mr. Norcross, Mr. Abbott, Mr. Richardson, Mr. Crowell, and Mr. Hallett.
A “bureau of relief” was appointed, consisting of A. H. Rice, F. W. Lincoln, Samuel C. Cobb, Henry L Pierce, and Joseph H. Chadwick.
On Monday, Nov. 11, at a meeting of the General Committee, the following sub-committees were also appointed: 1. To urge the General Government to enlarge the post-office site, — William Gaston, William L. Burt, and Edward S. Tobey. 2. To urge our senators and representatives to procure the passage of a law to remit the duties on building-materials, — Josiah Quincy, Thomas Russell, James L. Little. 3. To ask the governor to call a special session of the legislature, — Avery Plummer, William Gray, Martin Brimmer, William B. Spooner, William Claflin, and Samuel B. Spooner. 4. To call a public meeting of the citizens, — William Gaston, Hamilton A. Hill, Augustus Parker, George O. Carpenter, Thomas Russell, and Rev. J. D. Fulton.
The following gentlemen were appointed a finance committee: William Gray, George C. Richardson, Samuel C. Cobb, Avery Plummer, Martin Brimmer, and Otis Norcross, ex officio.
The following committee was appointed to secure work for, and aid, such women as might have been deprived of employment by the fire: —
Subsequently the General Relief Committee was made a permanent organization, and the following names added to the previous membership: —
The committee of seven, and the chairmen of the several permanent committees, were constituted an executive committee; the permanent committees being, 1. Bureau of Relief; 2. Employment for Women; 3. Employment for Men.
A committee was also appointed to prepare a list of gent] omen, comprising all interests and trades, to circulate papers among the citizens to procure pecuniary aid and relief: —
And they reported the next day as follows: —
A committee, consisting of Josiah G. Abbott, Benjamin R. Curtis, Sidney Bartlett, George T. Bigelow, and B. F. Thomas, was appointed to confer with the city solicitor and the other legal advisers of the city in reference to such acts as it may be desirable to ask from the legislature of the State at the approaching extra session.
Hon. Samuel Hooper, Alexander H. Rice, and Thomas Russell, were appointed a committee to petition the Secretary of the Navy for a larger appropriation for the Charlestown Navy Yard, in order that employment might be given a larger number of destitute men.
The General Committee appointed the following committee to aid men in procuring employment: Samuel D. Warren, George O. Carpenter, Martin Griffin, William Endicott, jun., Abram Firth, J. D. Fulton, Samuel H. Gookin.
A committee of five was appointed to organize a bureau of relief, with headquarters in the Charity-Bureau building, Chardon Street. The committee consisted of Hon. A. H. Rice, Hon. Frederick W. Lincoln, Mr. S. C. Cobb, Mr. H. L. Pierce, and Mr. Joseph H. Chadwick.
We feel constrained to insert here, just as it appeared in “The Boston Post,” a report of one of the meetings of the Relief Committee; for it will bring more vividly to mind the scene, the people, and the way assistance was offered, than any thing else could do:
“Another meeting of the General Relief Committee was held yesterday morning at City Hall; Hon. William Gray, the chairman, presiding. Messrs. Shippen, Marcy, and Adams, of the Relief Committee from Philadelphia, and the Mayor of Lowell, were present by invitation. The chairman spoke of the aid which had been proffered from various cities, and said, that, at the time their telegrams were received, immediate answers were deemed necessary; and the mayor had formed a despatch, which was approved by the entire committee, and sent to the Mayors of Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Chicago, Alleghany City, Providence, and the President of the New-York Chamber of Commerce, that their assistance would be gratefully received. At present, however, while he had no foolish pride against receiving aid from other cities, he was of the opinion that Boston was able to relieve all suffering and need; and it would be perhaps dishonorable to accept the offers so freely made. He therefore offered a resolution, that while profoundly grateful for the aid tendered, and with entire readiness and thanksgiving to accept the same if circumstances render it necessary, it gives them unalloyed pleasure to say, that, while the losses have been great, Providence has so favored them, that the assistance so freely proffered will not be required.
“This was seconded by Hon. Thomas Russell.
“Mr. Nathan Matthews did not think they were prepared to send such a response. The merchants could not afford to relieve the sufferers; and they would certainly need help.
“Rev. William B. Wright knew there were many young men and women who were in need of help; and he thought there was an imperative demand for an immediate fund.
“Hon. Josiah Quincy agreed that it was too early to refuse aid, and moved to lay the resolution on the table.
“Mayor Gaston said that common courtesy demanded a definite answer, and he hoped one would be given. He thought that nearly every one failed to appreciate the magnitude of the loss, not only of the wealthy, but of the poor. The charity of the city bestowed through the usual channels would not be sought; nor would private charity extend beyond a limited extent. The people who had suffered must be sought out and assisted; and the question was, if they should interfere, and refuse the aid proffered them. A certain degree of pride was commendable; but in an emergency like the present, unless a fund could be guaranteed to meet the wants of the sufferers, he did not think it right to reject those offers: they should rather be gratefully accepted. These remarks were applauded, and the resolution tabled.
“Mr. Matthews then offered the following:—
“Resolved, That the committee, in behalf of the citizens of Boston, return most sincere thanks to their fellow-citizens in all parts of the Union forthe warm expressions of sympathy which they have tendered at this time of calamity, and for the friendly offers of pecuniary aid which they have made; and that these friendly offers be, and they are hereby, gratefully accepted.’
“Mr. P. A. Collins was not sure that employment would be so speedily furnished as some had hoped. He thought the resolution should be tabled till it was known what was needed. A motion to this effect was made by Col. Henry Walker.
“Mayor Gaston said delay meant a defeat of the resolution. There were already a thousand persons in the parish of Father Healey who were suffering from the fire.
“Rev. Robert Laird Collier said the fifty thousand dollars appropriated by the Relief and Aid Committee of Chicago could be returned; but the fifty thousand dollars raised by the citizens in thirty minutes could not be so easily disposed of. When spring-time came, it would be soon enough to refuse the offering, if it were not needed.
“Mr. Shippen of Philadelphia said, that, unless Boston accepted their aid, Philadelphia could not receive their assistance in a similar emergency. He did not want kind hearts repulsed by wet blankets, and hoped their aid would be accepted.
“Mr. William B. Spooner said the gifts should be received with gratitude, and immediately applied to the benefit of the sufferers.
“The resolution of Mr. Matthews was then unanimously adopted with applause; and Father Healey was added to the General Committee.
“Mr. Gray, the chairman, said he had received from Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis five hundred dollars; from New Bedford two thousand dollars; from Mr. Dana, of the firm of Morgan Brothers, London, five thousand dollars; from S. A. Stetson, from the surplus of the Odd Fellows’ Fund, a thousand dollars.
“Hon. E. S. Tobey said the Boston Young Men’s Christian Association had ten thousand dollars on hand; and Mr. Gray said the Boston Committee had seventy-five thousand dollars yet remaining of the Chicago Relief Fund.
“A despatch from the Secretary of the Navy was read, which said that further discharge from the construction department of the Navy Yard would be delayed till further orders.
“A letter from the Secretary of the Treasury was received, stating that there was no doubt that Congress would afford relief to those importers who had stock in bond, and were injured by the fire.”
Thus it will be seen, that with wisdom, prudence, and Christian charity, great preparations were made to succor the deserving poor. In this work the committee soon found that their greatest task would be in providing for the destitute sewing-girls, who could be counted by the thousand.
Miss Jennie Collins, who has devoted her whole life to the welfare of the sewing-girls, and who, although sometimes misguided, and at others too enthusiastic, has, nevertheless, done a great work in her independent way, was a most earnest worker in that time of trial; and the rooms she kept open as a public resort for working-women were crowded with seekers after employment. Be it said to their honor, they desired work, and not charity. The following statement was published, as given by Miss Collins, the day after the fire, and while the public mind was eagerly seeking after information:—
“According to her estimate, about thirty thousand women and girls were thrown out of employment by the great fire. of these, eighteen thousand are tailoresses; three thousand more are employed making shoes, slippers, heels, shawl-straps, in leather-stitching, and in all branches of the leather-trade. The remaining nine thousand were employed in the various trades in the following list, from fifty to six hundred in each: Waiters in restaurants, type-setting, making paper boxes, making paper collars, saleswomen (there are only four hundred in the entire city), cloak-making (no dress-makers or milliners were burned out), hoop-skirt and corset making, furriers, rubber-work, press-feeders, drawing on glass, book-keeping, rosette and necktie making, hair-work, jute and switches, quilting, machine-sewing, finishing in tailor-shops, hat and cap making, cigar-making, carpet and upholstering, pattern-making, bonnet-frame making, worsted knitting, packing, glass and crockery, confectioners, toy-making, doll-dressing (this trade employs two hundred girls sixteen weeks each year), drugs and medicines, grave-clothing, theatrical costuming, designing, ladies’ furnishing, embroidering, hair-net work, artificial flowers, lithographing and photographing, frame-gilding, ruffling and fluting, elastic-making, copying and proof-reading, ladies’ hose-sewing, cloud and nubia making, bugle-trimming, fringe-making, glove-making, tassel-making, crocheting, shirt-making, bookbinding, umbrella and parasol making, preserving flowers, artificial limbs, feather-curlers, straw-sewers, braid-winding, lace-making, carriage-trimming, chair-seating, feather-duster making, needle-making, crape-folding, wax-work, suspender-making, pickling, silver burnishing, and as errand-girls. Besides these, there are about as many more sub-divisions of labor, the names of which would be unintelligible to the uninitiated.
“It appears, then, that while a few women are pining for their rights to the pulpit, the bar, the scalpel, and the editorial paste-pot, thirty thousand women in Boston enjoy the right to labor in a hundred and fifty trades, and many of them enjoy the right to good wages.”
The Committee for the Relief of Working-women had their headquarters under the Park-street Church; and plenty of work they found to do. Under the leadership of Mrs. William Claflin, they worked until they could not stand, talked until they were hoarse, studied the circumstances, and computed wages and board, until their heads were dizzy in mental exhaustion. Here, again, we must append another report from the morning press of that week:
Money being the one great need of women who are out of employment, it is gratifying to inform them that there is enough in the relief fund to meet all exigencies. This money, as we understand it, belongs to people who have been thrown out of employment. It is in no sense a charity that the applicants accept in taking money from the hands of the Relief Committee. They are simply acting in the place of their former employers, and paying them money that is as much their own as if they had worked for it with the needle, the sewing-machine, or any other implement of industry. At present, the headquarters of relief for working-women are in the basement of Park-street Church, where Mrs. William Claflin and her corps of noble-hearted women and other co-workers are to be found to attend to all who may call upon them. No girl or woman who has been thrown out of employment need be ashamed to visit these headquarters. There is no red-tape there, or any thing else to humble the pride of the most proud-spirited girl in Boston; and, as a beautiful compliment to the girls who have already called and been assisted, we add Mrs. Claflin’s own words: ‘It is a downright blessing to be permitted to see the respectable and brave spirit manifested by these working girls and women.’ Every caller is treated with the utmost politeness; and not for one moment, even, is a girl allowed to feel that she is asking for any thing, or that she is to receive any thing, other than what of right is her own. The applicant simply tells where she has been employed, what wages she has been able to earn, how many are dependent on her for support, and whether she boards, or lives at home; and then, not being afraid that any respectable girl will impose upon them, the relief comes, and they get their money as freely as from the hands of their employers. What is needed is given; and, this gone, they can come for more. Nearly two hundred girls were paid off yesterday and Tuesday afternoon, each girl receiving from two to five dollars in money, according to her needs; no girl being willing to receive more than she actually needs to get along with.
“In this connection Mrs. Claflin desired us to state, in order to relieve the labors of the committee, and also to more readily assist the girls, that properly-vouched-for board-bills, presented by landlords or landladies where girls out of employment are stopping, will be paid by the committee. Women who have been accustomed to board themselves in their rooms will receive checks for meals by applying for them at these headquarters; and, as fast as their labors can be systematized, other arrangements will be made to extend and simplify the work of providing for these women. In addition to this, work will be furnished the girls as fast as possible; and people who can give employment to any number of girls are particularly requested to so inform this committee. Where it is practicable to do so, girls are requested to bring certificates from their late employers, stating that they are out of employment,” &c.
For days and weeks after the great disaster, the various headquarters of relief committees were crowded with anxious seekers after employment and temporary relief. The doorways were sometimes so crowded, and the offices so full, that a ticket-system had to be adopted, by which only a certain number could be admitted at once. The overseers of the poor in the Chardon‑street building, the Woman’s Relief Office at the Park-street Church, the Young Men’s Christian Association, the Young Women’s Christian Association, the Young Men’s Christian Union, City Hall, and “Boffin’s Bower,” heard tales of distress and of patient toil at which Boston was astonished.
But the patience,
cheerfulness, and courage of the unfortunate ones was something marvellous. No
weeping anywhere after the first day, except for the dead. It was given the
citizens of the “Athens of America” once, at least, to
“Know how sublime a thing it is
To suffer and be strong.”
corporations, men, women, children, all gave their share toward the funds for
relief; and the whole community was purified, refined, and ennobled by that
outburst of charity.
“The steel must pass through fire ere it can yield
Fit instruments for mighty hands to wield.”
The same spirit which prompted the people to decline much proffered aid, also led them to protest against any impolitic national movements in favor of individual Boston which might be an injury to the whole country. So, when some benevolent, unwise men advocated the issue of more currency to relieve the stringency of the Boston money-market, Mr. Gray, on behalf of the committee, sent a protest to the Secretary of the Treasury at Washington, saying that Boston was not so much in need as to demand such an extraordinary proceeding. When Mr. Gray’s telegram became known in Washington, the following despatch was sent to Boston, among others, for the encouragement of the people: —
UNITED-STATES COAST-SURVEY OFFICE,
WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 1872.
MY DEAR GRAY, — Your telegraphic despatch is a glorious one; and the way in which it is received here makes the Boston man feel proud of his city. With what a noble spirit Boston has met her calamity! Hereafter the faith in her will be tenfold greater than before; and out of her ashes will arise a reputation which will transcend in value even the immense loss which she has suffered. Your sincere friend,
BENJAMIN PIERCE.Hon. WILLIAM GRAY.
There are many things which are of interest in connection with this subject which will be found in a subsequent chapter: and all it behooves us to say in this place is, that if there was any suffering in the city on account of the fire, and after the first day, it was unknown to the committee; for every known one, great and small, was attended with much care; and, while there were many impostors, all were fed and clothed, in order that none should by any chance be missed who deserved assistance. Out of the fire “came forth sweetness” and rest and gratitude and love.